Fear

Jeff Abbott

Canst thou not minister to a mind diseas’d,

Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,

Raze out the written troubles of the brain,

And with some sweet oblivious antidote

Cleanse the stuff’d bosom of that perilous stuff

Which weighs upon the heart?

- William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Tell me, if you can, what is courage.

- Plato

ONE

I killed my best friend.

Miles stared at the words, black in their clean lines against the white of the paper. First time to write the truth. He put the pen back to the pad.

I didn’t want to kill him, didn’t mean to kill him. But I did.

‘Baring your soul fixes nothing.’ Andy sat against the edge of the kitchen table, watching him write. ‘She’ll just hate you.’

Miles said, ‘No, she won’t.’

Andy lit a cigarette, exhaled a blue cloud over the confession as Miles wrote. ‘You’ve lied to Allison for weeks…’

‘Lie’s a bit strong.’

‘Not as strong as murder. Telling her what you did isn’t going to make you better.’ He watched the smoke dance from the cigarette’s tip.

‘Shut up.’ Miles finished writing out his confession. Andy wandered to the kitchen, rummaged in the refrigerator, found an early-morning beer.

‘Priests say confession is good for the soul, but this is an exceptionally bad idea. Even for your soul. We had a deal, Miles.’

‘This doesn’t affect you.’ Miles signed his name – his real name, Miles Kendrick – at the bottom of the page. Allison had never seen his true name.

‘You tell her what happened, it very much affects me.’ Andy slapped his hand on the table. ‘Let me read what you wrote.’ Miles slid the paper across the table to him, then went to the kitchen counter and poured black coffee into a cup. He usually drank his coffee first thing, but this morning he’d wanted to write the confession before he lost his nerve.

Miles went to the bathroom, splashed cold water on his face. Stared at himself in the mirror.

I used to be someone, he thought. I used to be me, a regular guy, the anybody American with a home and a business and a life, and now I don’t know who I am anymore. The old me died. The new me doesn’t want to be born.

‘Lies!’ Andy called from the kitchen.

Miles wiped his face and stepped back into the kitchen. ‘I’m telling the truth.’

Andy slapped at the confession. ‘The truth you remember. Not the truth of what really happened.’

‘It’s all I remember.’

‘You didn’t save those cops.’

‘You know I did.’

‘And I think about the high price every day, Miles.’

Miles stepped around Andy, took the paper, folded it, slipped it into an envelope. ‘I have to be honest with her.’

‘You’re breaking our deal.’

‘The only deal we have is in your mind. I have to go. Don’t be here when I get back.’

‘I don’t want to get ugly, Miles,’ Andy said, ‘but you give her that confession, and I’ll kill you.’

Miles stopped by the apartment door. He yanked on his coat, slid the confession into his coat pocket.

‘I will, Miles.’ Andy’s voice was low and it prickled Miles’s skin as if an ice cube ran along his ribs. ‘I’ll slip a gun into your mouth. I’ll pull the trigger. I’ll settle the score.’ Andy paced the kitchen floor, arms crossed, glaring.

‘You go ahead and try.’ Miles shut the door behind him and leaned against it. Then he hurried down the steps, past the comforting cinnamon smells of the bakery on the ground floor of his apartment building. He stopped right outside the building’s front door, craned his neck out an inch, scanning both ways up the narrow streets, eyeing every car and pedestrian.

No one waited to kill him. No cars idling on the road, full of assassins to mow him down before he took five steps. He started his walk to Allison’s office. He didn’t drive anymore because he was afraid if the Barradas found him, they’d wire a bomb to his car’s ignition. They’d blown up the last two people who had testified against them, scattering engine and glass and flesh across a driveway in Hialeah and an office parking lot near Miami. The center of Santa Fe, where he now lived and worked, was territory he could cover on foot. Santa Fe was so much smaller and quieter than the constant revving hum of Miami. He walked through the Plaza at the heart of the old city, past the Native Americans spreading turquoise and silver jewelry across black felt mats. He headed up Palace Avenue, past a beautiful young mother pushing a stroller with twin girls under a pink blanket, tourists ambling along an architectural route, joggers huffing in the crisp gray of the mountain morning. Jogging, Miles thought, he should try jogging. Good healthy exercise to heal all the rot inside him.

He glanced over his shoulder twice to see if Andy was following him. No Andy, although it wouldn’t take him long to catch up if he decided to press his case.

The confession, inside his pocket, made a soft crinkling sound as he walked, and he smoothed the paper straight with a slide of his finger.

The paper would change everything in his life, once again.

He walked past the stone grandeur of Holy Faith Episcopal Church and the elegant Posada Hotel and Spa. Most of the homes along this stretch of Palace Avenue had been converted into office space. Allison Vance counseled in an old brick Victorian that stood out from the more common adobe-style buildings, its yard dotted with spruce pines and cottonwoods. The hum of a saw roared through an open upstairs window. The landlord was refurbishing the empty top two floors while Allison refurbished people’s heads.

Miles went up to the house, glancing over his shoulder. Andy stood on the bricked sidewalk, huddled against the cold, his tropical print shirt and khakis out of place in the morning chill of a Santa Fe spring.

Go away, Miles mouthed at Andy.

‘If you give her that confession,’ Andy said, ‘it changes nothing. It doesn’t hurt me, it hurts you. You got me, Miles?’

Miles gestured at him to go.

‘This ain’t done.’ Andy tossed the cigarette onto the street, marched back toward the Plaza.

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